29 March 2016

13 Tips For Visiting & Seeing The Taj Mahal


In my recent post, I shared pictures from our time exploring Agra's monument of love; The Taj Mahal. This time I thought I would share tips for visiting and seeing the Taj Mahal with ease. There are millions of people that dream of visiting the Taj Mahal. This means that there is hardly a time when its not crowded. The tips below will help you the visit a little more bearable in what can be a crowded and chaotic place in some seasons.

1. Take A Guided  Tour 

Although I am usually a fan of DIY tours of places I visit, for this one I would highly recommend a guided tour. For one they will know all the cool places to show you as well as the insider history and stories about how the place came to be. Secondly, they will also fend off people hustling you to pay for them to take pictures for your or any other service they may be throwing at you. Also bear in mind that your tour guide will also try and take you around to so-called "Gallerues" or aka carpet showrooms and jewellery studios, places that they are more than likely to receive commission from, for each person they bring to the showrooms. Feel free to go and have a look but know that they most likely will make you feel as if you have to buy something before can leave. I am quite strong willed and buy only what I want and need. If you cannot afford it or don't need it do not feel like you are to buy it. Leave or haggle and see if you can get a price you are happy to pay.
Arranging tour guides: Depending on where you are staying in India, your hotel can help you find a knowledgeable guide to take you around for the day. We were staying at the Marriott in Gurgaon, a couple of minutes outside of Delhi. They arranged our driver from Delhi to Agra and a tour guide when we arrived in Agra. If you want to DIY(Do It Yourself) and arrange a guide yourself, then check out ToursByLocals and Vayable. You can also get a government-approved tour guide for about £20 a day from Uptourism. We were looking to stay in Agra when we were planning our trip but ended up doing the day trip due to other commitments we had. If you are looking for places to stay near Taj Mahal, there is a Marriott near by as well as the beautiful Oberoi which has amazing views of the Taj Mahal even if you are just there for afternoon tea.

2.  When To Go and What Days To Visit

India has high pollution and this can affect the visibility of the Taj Mahal. It's recommended not to bother coming in the winter. Yes, there may be less of the crowds but there is a reason for that! Even when you are only a few meters next to the Taj, you may not be able to see it because of the fog. If you cannot help coming in winter then don't bother getting up first thing for it either as you will most likely not see a thing until the fog clears of around midday onwards but again returns early afternoon. Winter is between November and February. I would recommend going just before Summer as it will be warm enough but not too hot. I visited in the heat of the summer and won't be trying that again. What I can say though was that the days were clear so if you want those sunrise and sunset shots and can bear the heat then its the perfect time to visit. Also note that Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays. Try and go between Monday and Thursdays as weekends and public holidays this place can resemble what I can only compare with a wildebeest migration, in that it is so crowded you will regret getting out of bed in the morning.

3. Avoid Going In The Morning

Most of the blogs and travel guides usually say go early in the morning but guess what? EVERYBODY and their cousin and grandma is there in the morning because they read the same advice. Aim to go there slightly later in the morning around 10am onwards. The crowds at the ticket office would have subsided by then. I think when we arrived it was around 10 or 11am, there was hardly any people at the ticket office. If you want to see the Taj Mahal early in the morning without the crowds then see tip number 4.

Crowds are inevitable at Taj Mahal 

4. Sunrise (and Sunset) At The Taj Mahal

Hordes of people usually turn up at the Taj Mahal hoping to see it at sunrise. The best views at sunrise, and without crowds, AND also free can be had from across the Yamuna River or Saniya Restaurant's rooftop(See tip 13). This is also the perfect spot for sunset as well.

5. Seeing Taj Mahal At Full Moon Opening

There are certain times of the year when the Taj Mahal is open at night. This is during the full moon. Taj Mahal is open two days before and two days after the full moon. The only downside to this is that there is a cap on the number of visitors allowed in at a time. Only 50 visitors are allowed in at a time. You can purchase tickets for this 24 hours in advance and will be given time slots. Downside to all this is that if you pick a time slot before the moon has rise then the the effect of having the Tah Mahal light up by the moon is a waste of time and if you pick a slot when the moon as fully risen then it would be too high for that all-beautiful shot or even as an experience, in my eyes would have been a wasted journey. 
Tip: Instead head to the River Yamuna. See tip 13.

6. Whats Included In Your Ticket

Tickets for entrance to see the Taj Mahal are about 750 Rupees which is roughly about £7-8 or $ 9-10. Your ticket also includes a bottle of water as you are not allowed any food or drink inside. Your ticket also includes shoe covers as you are not allowed to walk around the Taj Mahal with your shoes. You may spot some locals walking around bear foot inside as well as shoes are not allowed. In the summer the marble can be extremely hot so bear that in mind if you want to explore like a local. You may burn in the process. Shoes are not allowed as this is all to protect the marble from more damage.


7. It Can Be Done In One Day

If you are visiting the golden triangle(Delhi, Agra and Jaipur), note that you can actually see the sights, visits the markets and walk around the city all in one day. Most Golden Triangle tours mainly take you to the Taj Mahal, where as if you DIY and get your own tour guide you can do Agra Fort, and Baby Taj as well as see the markets, have some authentic Indian curry in the city before moving on.  If you do however want to stay the night there are many a place to stay in the city covering budgets from cheap as chips to luxury. I will do another post with what to see in the rest of  Agra and cover some options on where to stay if spending the night in Agra.

8. Getting The Money Shot

The beauty of having a guide with you is that as they show you around they will also have insider information of the best angles to capture the Taj Mahal as well as leave you to your own devices to be creative while you tour the place without them. For the most part I would say you can forget about getting that money shot without the crowds being in your shot. Even with the crowds, if you are creative enough there is plenty of room to have peaceful moments away from the crowds where you can take unique pictures with a soul in them -  you just may have to work harder for it.



9. Prepare For Touts Including - Your Guide

The place is rife with touts, from the ticket office to even when you are inside the Taj  Mahal. They won't be selling products in there but will be offering a service of taking pictures for you and all sorts. Just prepare for that. On the one hand, I get that they have to eat and that's one way to earn money but when you are asked several times over and over it can be a pain. The advantage of having a tour guide with you will mean they either won't ask you or when they do, your guide will fend them off for you. Note that your guide may also offer to take you to a "gallery",  in my naivety I thought this was really a gallery. These are showrooms. They will take you to many. Some I outright said no to and some I wanted to go to. I saw carpet showrooms and learned about the traditions handed down, as well as the locals they use to create these beautiful pieces. When it came to buying one, it wasn't something I needed so I didn't fall for the spiel or the guilt trip of walking away without buying anything. What I did fall for was an Aquamarine tennis bracelet though. Blue is my favorite color and Aquamarine is my favourite stone so this piece was calling my name! The point is don't be guilt tripped into buying anything. Because the showrooms doors are closed off and you will feel as if you almost cannot leave until you buy something. Don't fall for the hard sell. Buy if you want and or can afford it. The carpets are beautiful and a fraction of what places like John Lewis and Liberty stores charge for them, so you want one and cant afford them in London then this is the time and place to get them as they also deliver for free, anywhere around the world.

10. Check Out The Hidden and Cool Places To Capture In Photos

Nothing beats insider information where ever you are going, whatever the city. Unless your mind is like Google search engines then you will not have all the information about where to get the best views or that little hole inside the moselum to sneak that shot of the mosque or angling your face just right so that the Taj Mahal is right in your eyes. So take your time and tour the site at slow pace and fully take it in(also because you can only use your ticket one - can't go out and come back in), because for some, this is a once in a lifetime visit so make the most of it.

You can see the Taj in Igal's eyes.


11. Check Out Other Sights With Related History.

Although the Taj Mahal may be the star of the show don't forget to visit other sights while in Agra. Theses included the Agra Fort where Shah Jahan, the husband of Mamtaz Mahal, the man himself who commissioned the Taj Mahal for his wife. This is not too far from Taj Mahal and you can also see Taj Mahal from there.   This is where Shah Jahal spent his days with view the Taj Mahal and resting place for his beloved wife. Another place to see while you are in town is also the Tomb of I'timad-ud-Daulah. This is another Mughal mausoleum and usually referred to as Baby Taj. I will be sharing pictures of Agra Fort in my next post  as well as Baby Taj when I do the top things to see and do in Agra(Including where to stay). Look out for a post on that.

12. What You Are Not Allowed To Bring

If you are thinking that you can sneak in your tripod for those long exposure thoughts you will be disappointed. Tripods are not allowed in. While there are lockers for you to leave these if you make the mistake of coming to the site with them. I don't think I would put money on the security of the lockers and any contents in them. If you happen to be driving yourself there(car hire is only about £10 a day in Agra), cars or are not allowed within 500 meters of the Taj Mahal as pollution has been found to increase deterioration of the site. Food is also not allowed so don't bother packing a lunch to bring with you as that will be thrown out and increase the time you are searched at security. Other items not allowed include smoking items, mobile phone chargers, tobacco products and drinks other than the water included in your ticket.

Igal and our guide, standing by the Taj Mahal with views of River Yamuna - You want to be on the overside for the Full Moon shooting.

13. Take In The Views From The River

If you are after those amazing shots of the Taj Mahal at sunrise, sunset and during full moon then head to the river and view the Taj Mahal from River Yamuna. It has much less crowds, if at all. Depending on your chosen spot you may only have a few photographers to compete with. This means that you won't have to contemplate on whether you have chosen the correct time slot for the full moon opening evenings at the Taj Mahal. Also sunset, sunrise and importantly for full moon shots from the river side means that you can use your tripods, something that is not allowed when you are inside the grounds of the Taj Mahal. It's also FREE! Apart from the transportation to get there, of course. There are a few places near the Taj Mahal that also over great views without having to pay for it., such as rooftop restaurant of Saniya Palace Inn.


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